Egypt’s Horn of Africa Policy Backfires


Somaliland Times, 2002


For some years now, Southern Sudan has been the scene of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. As a result of the war that has been raging between the Sudanese government forces and the Southern Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement for the last 19 years, over 3 million Sudanese, mostly from the South, are understood to have perished or been displaced.

The recent peace accords reached in Machakos, Kenya, between the Sudanese government of Hassan Al-Bashir and the SPLM’s John Garang, to bring this tragic conflict to an end, has therefore been welcomed by the rest of the world with the exception of Egypt and its Arab supporters.

The Egyptian government has not only refused to give the peace accords a chance, but has vowed instead to undermine the Machakos agreement. The reason for Egypt’s immediate rejection of the Sudanese peace deal is related to a component of the Mashakus accords, which commits the Sudanese government to endorse the right of the people of Southern Sudan to exercise their right to self-determination. Egypt is a longtime opponent of Southern Sudanese struggle for independence from the North. Under both the regimes of late President Sadat and current President Mubarak, Egypt has been following a highly aggressive policy aimed at securing continued Egyptian accessibility to Nile waters at the expense of other nations. The Egyptian sensitivity towards the Nile waters is not new and has always been understandable within the context of the country’s total dependence on the river Nile for water.

Unfortunately however, Egypt has made the destabilization of riverine states such as Sudan and Ethiopia, the cornerstone of its Nile policy. The logic behind this policy is that unstable Sudan and Ethiopia would find neither time nor strength for adversely affecting the flow of Nile water into Egypt. This Egyptian policy has also required the now defunct state of Somalia to remain a unified and militarily strong country so as to be used as a pawn against Ethiopia, whenever the need arises. That is why Egypt has provided arms to Siyad Barre and encouraged him to repress the rebellion of Somaliland in the eighties.

Today, the Egyptian regime strongly opposes independence for Southern Sudan, as it unnecessarily fears that the emergence of a new state at the Nile river basin will lessen Egyptian share of Nile waters. Egypt is also vehemently hostile to Somaliland’s independence, which it views as a dangerous development that would weaken “Somalia”.

This hostile Nile policy has turned countries in the region against Egypt, which has had all the time in the world to mediate a peaceful settlement of the Sudanese conflict. But the Egyptian regime chose not to act as an honest broker. Now Egypt is almost begging to be included in any final settlement talks on the Sudanese or Somalia conflict.

Egypt has only itself to blame for the disastrous failure of its unrealistic and dreadful Nile policy. If Egypt doesn’t discard this wrong-headed policy, even the legitimate Egyptian interests regarding the Nile might well be jeopardized. The only way in which Egypt can guarantee the free flow of the river Nile into its desert country, is to replace its naïve and counterproductive policy towards the region with a new one that promotes peaceful, just and everlasting resolution of regional conflicts and restoration of inter-state-cooperation.